Making the Leap from Outputs to Outcomes

making the leap from outputs 1

Guest Blogger – David Holmes

Back when I started working in nonprofits, I was told that there is always a leap of faith necessary, no matter how perfectly designed the program. 

The design of the program could be as simple as this:

1)  I teach a class in how to write grant proposals.

2)  You attend that class and pay attention.

3)  Therefore, you will learn how to write grant proposals.

4)  Therefore, you will get grants.

It seems straightforward.  But when you begin to look hard at it—say, if you are a funder, and are wondering if it’s a good investment—you see that there are ways to pick holes in it:

  • Maybe you forget things easily?  So
    whatever you learn in the class won’t translate to actually doing the work.
  • Maybe I don’t teach the right things?  So you THINK you’ve learned the way to write a grant proposal, but actually, you haven’t.

Yipes!  But let’s assume we can eliminate these two issues. I can prove to an objective party (say a funder) that I know what I’m teaching.  And maybe I can test you before and after you take the class to see what you’ve learned, and you seem to do better on that test after the class.

But what about #4 above?  Can I ever guarantee this?  It seems to follow that if you write grant proposals the right way, then you will get grants.  But there are many other factors that enter into that.  How do I know that I will have that impact on you?  Logic models and understanding the crucial differences between outputs, short-term outcomes, and impact are the place to start.

We’d love to have your insight and ideas in the room!

Register now for David’s workshop on October 2, 2019, Outcome Measurement.


Dave Holmes is the Cleveland Lead at Foundation Center Midwest, coordinating the training, reference, and research services for the Midwest region. He returned to the Foundation Center in 2015 from a position as Senior Consultant at Grants Plus, writing grants and doing research for a variety of large and small nonprofit clients